In search of contemporaries

The push to the end is now ON!

The first part of my study planning is being dedicated to scheduling into each week a set of new composers to explore, as many as I can get my ears stuck into, and for this very reason, I did a google search to get some inspiration. I found this article:

https://www.theguardian.com/music/series/a-guide-to-contemporary-classical-music

The Guardian’s weekly classical music critic Tom Service compiled a list of his most worthy contemporary composers back in 2013. I figured, although 3yrs old, this wasn’t a bad place to start, and although 5 names looked familiar, the rest didn’t. Daunting – and exciting – stuff!

Therefore, my new ‘hit list’ for my Listening Log (and all reviews will be documented in this blog post as before) are as follows. I have not chosen EVERY composer to listen to, because I’m running out of time, but I have selected these:

Karlheinz Stockhausen
Alfred Schnittke
Iannis Xenakis
Magnus Lindberg
Galina Ustvolskaya
La Monte Young
Gerard Grisey
John Tavener
Toru Takemitsu
James Dillon
Terry Riley
Henry Dutilleaux
Gerald Barry
Cornelius Cardew
Luciano Berio
Philip Glass
Morton Feldman
Hans Werner Henze
Steve Reich
Louis Andriessen
Jorg Widmann
Thomas Ades

For these composers, I intend to cherry pick a single track, perhaps two, from each of them and just listen. I have been really keen to study the scores up until now, but I want to appreciate these composers with my ears and record they make me feel.  I’ve come such a long way with my own composition and I really benefitted from simply listening to it; gaining the visceral effect it had on me really helped me understand it more and I think it’s an extremely valuable way of appreciating the composers work.

This is what I want to gain a sense of as I move towards the completion and submission of this course. I want to acknowledge the contemporary composers around me today and I want to record how each of them makes me feel and why.

As you may have worked out by now, I am a traditionalist when it comes to classical music. I adore the lush, rich diatonic harmonies that sound right, sound gorgeous, and move me. I really struggle to listen to more avant grade, atonal, ‘odd’ compositions. I shy away/steer clear of them as they leave me cold. But I know that my journey through this degree will have been in vain if I didn’t acknowledge and embrace those composers around me today and their music, whether diatonic or atonal.

I’m looking forward to undertaking lots of listening and you’ll find all the details – and my feedback –  in my Listening Log as usual.

Orchestral Sounds – Listening Research

This blog post concerns itself with the various pieces of music that I listened to in order gain a greater sense of the development of the orchestra throughout history and how such developments affected the sound produced. These notes are brief overviews from my listening. They are not designed to be in-depth analysis’s of these pieces.  I just wanted to capture my initial reactions, instincts if you will to hearing the music; describe what I heard, and in the process, try to sense the developmental journey as I went along.  I’ve even included a YouTube video for each piece. These notes have been included in my central ‘Listening Log’ post also:

Renaissance (1400-1600):
Giovanni Gabrieli’s ‘Sacrae Symphoniae’ (1597)
This surprised me just how many different instruments, including oboe, flutes, viols, bassoon, trombone, crumphorn (?), organ, were playing.  It had a wonderfully open quality to it’s texture and there was evidence of some interplay between the different instruments; the texture alternated between homophonic and polyphonic. But despite the homophonic sections, I still felt that the sound was thin. The woodwind alternates between the strings quite a lot before playing together. The basso continuo is evident and provides a strong basis for the other instrumentation:

Published on 22 Aug 2014
Giovanni Gabrieli – Sinfoniae Sacrae
selected and instrumented by Vassil Kazandjiev
Chamber ensemble Sofia Soloists

Monteverdi’s ‘L’Orfeo’ (1607)
This is the first known opera and it opens with a very heraldic trumpet fanfare, which leads into the strong basso continuo played by a harpsichord. I can hear a lute or other early guitar-type instrument, which adds a lovely light element to the texture when played at the same time as the harpsichord. Again, there are strings and some brass, but really, the texture and tonal quality lacks any richness; it sounds bare, thin. There are lots of alternations between the parts, and the texture, like Gabrieli, changes often between the homophonic unity and the separated out polyphonic styles.  Clearly at this point in musical history, there was some awareness of trying to create variety and contrast:

Published on 9 Aug 2013
“Fable in musique” (“favola in musica” “) in 1 prologue and 5 acts by Claudio Monteverdi, created on 24 February 1607 at the Theatre of the Court at Mantua libretto in Italian: Alessandro Striggio, according to Greek legend. Musical Direction: Nikolaus Harnoncourt Orchestra and backing vocals: Das Monteverdi-together des Opernhauses Zurich Ballet des Opernhauses Zurich Mise en scène et realization (1978)” : Jean-Pierre Ponnelle

Baroque (1600-1760):
Handel’s ‘Orchestral Works Part 1/3 – Suite 1: Water Music’ (1717)
Another very stately piece, the basso continuo is still very evident with the harpsichord.  The texture sounds clean; I’m not sure what drew me to this conclusion.  The woodwind are again more prominent throughout and either double the string part or alternate between them.  The texture overall switches between homophonic and polyphonic, and the strings once more sound richer. There is definitely a discernible difference between this piece and the Gabrieli piece above, and I think the changes in the strings section contribute significantly towards the textural richness; it feels warmer:

Published on 16 Feb 2013
GEORG FRIEDRICH HÄNDEL (1685-1759)
Orchestral Works (2 LP Set – 1974)

J.S.Bach’s ‘Orchestral Suite No.3 in D Major’ (from 1730)
I felt that this piece had a greater, slightly denser texture. I could detect more instruments; strings which were divided into 4 distinct parts, harpsichord, trombones, oboes to name but a few.  The strings sounded richer, stronger, and it gave the piece a very stately, courtly feel. The melody was also assigned to the strings more, with the harpsichord and tombones adding the harmony.  The oboe doubled the melody at times, too, adding another dimension; it highlighted the melody somehow; brought it forward in the arrangement more.
The added woodwind and broader strings makes the difference here; the texture and sound generally sounds warmer:

Uploaded on 20 Oct 2011
J. S. Bach’s Orchestral Suite (Overture) No.3. in D Major (BWV 1068) performed by Reinhard Göbel (conductor) and the Budapest Festival Orchestra in October, 2011, in the Italian Cultural Institute, Budapest

Classical (1750-1820):
Mozart’s ‘Rondo alla Turca – Turkish March’ (1783)
This is the 3rd movement from Mozart’s Piano Sonata in A major. The strings are much fuller in this composition and lead for the majority of the melody line.  The woodwind support the harmony and also provide much of the rhythmic interest, too.
There is a lot of percussion; triangles, cymbals; this created so much more vibrancy than I expected and really brought the piece alive.  I could also hear clarinets for the first time! It also sounds like there are some very high flutes; piccolos perhaps? These create such a light delicate effect, which contrast to the rich, dense strings.  There is lots more independence to the lines for each section of instruments and the contrast in dynamics is apparent throughout.  Lots of light and shade.  Contrast is the key word now; everything is light and shade, loud and soft, rich and thin.  The scope for more effects and colour is evident. It’s dramatic and it’s powerful:

Uploaded on 1 May 2009
Website: http://www.60s70s80smusic.com
Mozart Rondo Alla Turca Orchestra, Turkish March, Classical Music
Fantastic symphony of Wolfang Amadeus Mozart

Mozart’s ‘Masonic Funeral Music in C Minor’ (1785)
Whilst there is no escaping the fact that this a sombre piece, it retains a stately feel and style that is very refined and elegant.
The woodwind open with homophonic chords and we hear bassoons in extremely low register, which I haven’t heard before during this research.  The tone of these low bassoons is quite unnerving and brings a completely different colour to the orchestration; it doesn’t spoil it, but it certainly stands out – a spikey, edgy sound that jars slightly.
Mozart writes a very homophonic texture in this piece, and once more we hear an incredibly rich string section contrast with the use of woodwind.  Reed instruments in particular stand out; oboes, cor anglais, their thin wiry sounds pierce through the thickness of the strings.
The church organ is used here, too, probably marking the occasion, and it is undoubtedly a sacred piece befitting the inclusion of an organ.  But this time, the organ is used to add weight, depth and richness to the overall texture, not simply to provide chords for a continuo part. It was nice to hear to being used in this way:

Uploaded on 11 Sep 2010
Masonic Funeral Music for Orchestra in C minor, K. 479a477.
“Maurerische Trauermusik in C minor, ‘Masonic Funeral Music’ K477/K479a” by Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields/Sir Neville Marriner

Romantic (1780-1910):
Haydn’s ‘Symphony No.92 in G Major ‘Oxford” (1789)
This is written for flute, oboe, bassoon, horn, trumpet, timpani and strings. The immediate thing one notices about this piece is how beautifully elegant and refined it is, especially in the strings.  This section is incredibly rich now, with many parts playing.  Haydn brings the woodwind in and these make a dramatic and effective addition to the strings.  When coupled with the strings, it seems woodwind really shine and enhance their colour.  They also help to make the strings sound more supported too.  They take the melody from them occasionally but also provide harmonic support, too.  When the horns come in they provide an additional tone that’s soft yet distinct; beautiful for suspensions and passing notes. This is the first piece that the horn plays and it makes such a difference to the overall colour.  It’s so warm and soft, yet at the same time distinct; you know it’s there.  I think I prefer it now to the oboe or the flute, which were amongst my favourite orchestral instruments.  Horns with strings – amazing! I will endeavour to write some horn sections into my composition:

Published on 7 June 2014
The symphony is set in 4 movements:
1. Adagio – Allegro spiritoso (0:00)
2. Adagio (7:27)
3. Menuetto: Allegretto (13:36)
4. Finale: Presto (18:44)
Performers: The Orchestra of the 18th Century, conducted by Frans Brüggen.

Beethoven’s ‘5th Symphony’ (1804)
Another symphony and another large group of instruments.  As such this is a larger sound.  There are much more strings and the sections sound bigger.  The brass and horns are extremely prominent, as are the timpani.  Woodwind echo the melody line of the strings.  The sectioning of instruments helps to make the texture richer.  The melody ripples across the instruments making the sound shimmer and the brass are extremely sonorous throughout. A very rich sound that is exciting and thrilling to listen to:

Published on 14 Apr 2012
To see the best of classical music visit
http://classicusblog.blogspot.com
Music “Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 67 – I. Allegro con brio” by Beethoven Orchestra London

Impressionist (1875-1925):
Debussy’s ‘Prelude de l’apres-midi d’un Faune’ (1894)
A well known and strikingly beautiful piece, Debussy’s work, inspired by the poem by Stephane Mallarme, really did prove that ‘less was more’.  The Impressionist movement set out to convey a mood, a feeling, rather than depict something literally, and it’s this vague suggestion that makes this piece so wonderful. When I listened to it having encountered all these other works before it, you can imagine what a difference it was. It was gentle. It was calm.  The texture shimmered. Effortless restraint sprang to mind as the piece continued past the opening flute solo, the tender strings.  Tender strings?! Pretty unheard of until now.
Everything sounds dreamy.  Instead of using instrumentation at its maximum capacity, ensuring that everything is playing at once, Debussy demonstrates that the skill sometimes lies in knowing what not to include:

Uploaded on 18 Nov 2011
Leonard Bernstein conducts Claude Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun – extract from “The Unanswered Question”, Boston Symphony Orchestra

I will add to this post some more modern pieces.  I have listened to Strauss’s one-act opera ‘Elektra’ and I want to also add my thoughts on Stravinsky’s ‘Rite of Spring’, too.

How do composers convey emotion through music?

As part of my research, I wanted to explore one of my favourite genres; film scores.

The job of a film composer is to provide a suitable musical setting to the images, which can literally be anything; end-of-the-world destruction; the next new miracle ‘we-thought-we’d-never-have-a-child’ baby in a pram; a funeral cortege.  Anything goes.  And the skill of painting these images with musical notes is an incredible skill that I both admire and aspire to.

Given that my composition for my final year is going to be interpreting or more literally, painting a musical picture of Lewis Carroll’s most famous story ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’, I thought I would try to ascertain how composers convey emotion through music.

Alan Silvestri – Forrest Gump; ‘Theme’

Forrest Gump
Forrest Gump is about the remarkable story of an unremarkable man who despite a simple outlook, manages to experience a rich and fulfilling life.

Silvestri’s ‘Feather Theme’ reflects the gentle, simple nature of the film’s titular character. It opens with a simple string pedal note that plays against a piano and harp rocking a perfect 5th interval; this perfectly matches the lilting motion of the feather floating and dancing on the air during the opening credits.

The theme broadens out to the relative minor where we hear a full, rich homophonic textured chord played by the strings and a further lightening of the melody with the addition of acoustic guitar.  The theme is then repeated but is richer in tone as the piano plays an octave lower than before.

Various harmonic lines move within the strings and Silvestri soon brings in the flutes playing at a high register to carry through to the next section which has a few bars bridge in which the clarinets echo the flutes. A glissando from the harp drives the modulation to a new key reprise of the main theme which this time is played in unison by the flutes and strings, putting the piano into a more accompaniment part.

It’s a very simple harmonic structure that doesn’t move far from the tonic.  Silvestri makes use of inverted chords to minimise the chord movements – the largest jump he makes is ii – V; the rest moves stepwise.  All reflecting Gump’s gentle and simple nature.

Alexandre Desplat – The Imitation Game; ‘Alan’

Imitation Game
The film tells the story of Alan Turing, the remarkable inventor of the machine that decoded the German’s Enigma machine and essentially won us the war.

A highly intelligent man, what Turing lacked in social skills he made up for in engineering genius.

Desplat’s third track on the soundtrack is entitled ‘Alan’ and from listening to this carefully, you can understand Turing’s complexity as an individual through the complex counterpoint and interwoven motifs.

An opening celeste plays a fast-paced ostinato that forms the main basis for the melody. The shape of this melody line reminded me not only of the code-breaking machine, the whirs and clanks of the cogs as it worked, but it also suggested to me the workings of a genius’s mind, constantly thinking synapses firing and sparking new ideas.

A french horn and a flute at very low register enters with a steady, slow melodic motif that contrasts against the celeste, almost bi-polar opposites really.  A very quiet, gradual crescendo tremolo string section joins the texture.

The piece is in a minor tonality, perhaps hinting at Turing’s frustrations at being so misunderstood and his invention so doubted.

Desplat allows the music to breath and to build with no melody for a few bars, allowing the listener to hear the carpet of texture underneath building whilst the celeste is busy, furious with its melodic pattern.

We hear another relate of the melodic motif first stated by the horns but this time with the flutes joining them in unison but in a very high register in unison. We can also hear the tremolo strings getting ever closer and louder, as though the mind is getting ever busier.

Cellos pick out bass notes in a light pizzicato pattern underneath this all, and the texture becomes more polyphonic, both melodically and rhythmically as more and more is added.

The horns play the melody and now echo the flute in their higher register. A minor third note comes through piercing the texture by the violins at a high register; it is very gradual, as though a though comes to mind.  At 1′ 19 the horns and strings come together for a brief moment of homophonic progression to a major key before returning back to the minor via a diminished chord.  By 1′ 59 we have returned to the minor key.

By now, Desplat has built the track to quite a pensive, thoughtful and almost ‘dark’ texture.  One feels that he has captured the workings of a very complex individual whose brain is constantly working and whose difficult personality belies an incredible talent.

Alexandre Desplat – The King’s Speech; ‘Lionel & Bertie’
King's_Speech_soundtrack
Based on the true story of his King George VI overcame his crippling stammer with the help of an Australian speech and language therapist, Lionel Logue, and the subsequent friendship that grew.

The first track on the album is called ‘Lionel & Bertie’ (Bertie was the King’s nickname).  This is a very gentle, tender track that through it’s progression, grows in confidence and warmer in tone.  The relationship between the two men was difficult at first, with the King feeling ashamed, angry, frustrated at his stammer and Logue trying to instil confidence within his client which often heightened feelings of inadequacy.

The opening is very soft and quiet with a string quartet playing.  It’s very intimate, and the cellos have an almost shimmering soft tremolo sound.

The lines between the parts become more contrapuntal at 0’29 with the beautifully rich tone of the violas coming through.

The melody line is very poignant and at 0’37 Desplat adds a unison flute at a high register which subtly helps pick out the tune in the texture.  The bass line is a very steady pizzicato and keeps the tempo moving forward steadily and gradually; it has a subtle stateliness about it, too.

At 1′ 15 Desplat varies the tonality between major and  minor, as though switching between the strength and experience of Logue with the constricted, crippled King.

The piece moves harmonically through various chords and at 1’25, the piano enters with a beautiful reflective and decorative descending motif; it is simply gorgeous from here.  Homophonic string chords, pizzicato bass and piano melody.

I really like this track.  Desplat closes the track with a harp picking out an arpeggiated tonic chord.

Alexandre Desplat – The King’s Speech; ‘Fear & Suspicion’
I chose this track as it so clearly depicts two very negative emotions.

It opens with a low bassoon pedal note, which could be mistaken for strings.  Cellos then enter with a dotted melodic motif in a minor key and it’s very repetitive.  At 0’23, Desplat changes to give the violins the melody line from the cellos, and a piano plays a tonic note in a medium register that almost feels like a morse code pattern.

The basses then copy the rhythm of the opening melody with the first violins playing a very high register countermelody that is piercing and uncomfortable.  At 0’58 the piano’s rhythm is echoed in unison by the basses; it feels almost like a heart beating irregularly and at 1’09 we get a complete change.  A reprise of the main theme comes in which is very lightly played on the piano; it pauses after each phrase accompanied by diminished chords played by the strings.  The pauses feel very doubting, untrusting – suspicious almost.

At 1’48, the tempo picks up and the main theme is more certain.  There are no pauses.  We have pizzicato bass and string parts instead of the homophonic chords.  It’s lighter, ambivalent.  Desplat includes unison celeste to the piano’s melody line which aids the lightness.  The track ends with a ‘devil may care’ attitude.

Alexandre Desplat – The Queen; ‘The Queen’
The_Queen_Soundtrack
Given that I have a heraldic theme to write for the Queen of Hearts in my composition, this titular track from Desplat’s soundtrack seemed a great place to listen for inspiration.  I was expecting lots of snare drums and heraldic trumpets; this is what we get:

A slow string note, soon harmonised a perfect 4th by further strings.  Then we hear tuned percussion (times) beat us into the next section which has an acoustic guitar playing arpeggiated notes, the strings playing homophonic chords, the french horn playing the slow simple melody line.

The timpani rhythm gets more interesting; at 0’28 we get a very flourishing glissando up and down on the harp acting as a bridge into the main theme played on the trumpets.  The strings remain the main harmonic foundation with the flutes dancing around its top register with pizzicato semiquaver decoration.

There is lots of brass underneath mainly from the french horn countermelody and the texture grows. At 0’51 everything goes silent and we almost enter another room at the palace.  Desplat brings in arpeggiated chords on the harpsichord with the timp still playing (slightly incongruously).  Then, we hear a harp playing arpeggiated chords with strings entering with a pedal note.

High strings play major 3rd chords with the timp still playing their semiquaver crotchet upbeat ‘roll’.  At 1’25 we get rich, full and dense thick string chords playing homophonically with the french horns picking out harmony notes through the middle.

I adore the timpani in this track and how their small but effective upbeat ‘rolls’ into each phrase bring about the regal feel without it sounding corny.  It’s certainly more effective and less obvious than snare drums.

 

Listening Log

The Listening Log on this blog helps to record exactly what I have listened to, why I chose to listen to it, and what I gained from the experience, both in terms of inspiration and learning within a compositional context.

I have also lifted the following guidance to listening to music from the OCA website to help me:

  • Aim to hear as broad a range of music as possible. Find out what styles you like best, by being as inclusive as possible. It is not always necessary to listen to complete works; excerpts of longer works, for example a movement of a sonata, concerto or symphony, are often sufficient to get a sense of the composer’s style and musical ideas.
  • If you can, try to focus your listening experiences on good quality, professional performances, either live or on CD or radio, or through web resources such as Naxos Music Library or Spotify.
  • Find a suitable place to listen, either through headphones or speakers, where you are comfortable and won’t be interrupted. Have a notepad and pen close by to jot down some of your thoughts.
  • Try to listen without distractions, but if your mind starts to wander, make a note of it! This is a valid observation and it is worth finding out if you lose interest at the same place on each hearing, or if it was just a concentration lapse on one occasion.
  • Try to keep an open mind and don’t allow your pre-conceptions of what the music might be like, or any previous knowledge of the composer get in the way of the music. Take the music entirely at face value, and expect to have several hearings before you form any kind of judgment of the work.
  • Begin by making observations about the sounds you are hearing. What instruments are playing? Is the music fast or slow? Consonant or dissonant? How hard or easy is the music to understand? What are your first impressions of the music?
  • Consider the impact of the music. Does it conjure up any emotions or images, or maybe even tell a story? These are your personal responses and there is no right and wrong!
  • Consider the music on a more technical level. What are the main themes? How is the music structured? How are the instruments used? Are there any solo lines, or prominent instruments? How often does the harmony change? What kinds of chords does the composer use? How is dissonance used?
  • Think about the circumstances of the piece’s first performance. Who would have played it? Where? What sorts of people would have been in the audience? How different would a performance today be from how it was written?
  • Begin to form your own opinions. What is it about this piece of music that appeals to you? What are the most successful aspects of the piece?
  • Think about the context of the work. How did it influence other composers? Can you hear any similarities with other composers? Are there any elements of the circumstances of the piece’s composition that can be heard in the music (for example, use of folk music, political influences, practical constraints etc.)? How does this piece compare with others by the same composer? Are there any obvious differences or similarities of style?
  • After a few hearings, consider how your feelings towards the music have changed. How do you think of the music now, compared to your first impressions? Are there any details that you noticed on subsequent hearings that you missed initially? Are there any observations you can make which might help you when listening to other works by the same composer? Anything to listen out for? Any lasting impressions? Does listening to this piece of music cause you to seek out music of a similar style? Or a different style?

Many of your thoughts when listening might pass by, unrecorded. Your listening log does not need to include every single observation, but the ideas above could give you some ideas of things to consider. Brief comments on each piece are sufficient, but make comparisons where you can with the other works you have heard, and feel free to write more about the pieces that particularly inspire you!”

Giovanni Gabrieli’s ‘Sacrae Symphoniae’ (1597)
This surprised me just how many different instruments, including oboe, flutes, viols, bassoon, trombone, crumphorn (?), organ, were playing.  It had a wonderfully open quality to it’s texture and there was evidence of some interplay between the different instruments; the texture alternated between homophonic and polyphonic. But despite the homophonic sections, I still felt that the sound was thin. The woodwind alternates between the strings quite a lot before playing together. The basso continuo is evident and provides a strong basis for the other instrumentation:

Published on 22 Aug 2014
Giovanni Gabrieli – Sinfoniae Sacrae
selected and instrumented by Vassil Kazandjiev
Chamber ensemble Sofia Soloists

Monteverdi’s ‘L’Orfeo’ (1607)
This is the first known opera and it opens with a very heraldic trumpet fanfare, which leads into the strong basso continuo played by a harpsichord. I can hear a lute or other early guitar-type instrument, which adds a lovely light element to the texture when played at the same time as the harpsichord. Again, there are strings and some brass, but really, the texture and tonal quality lacks any richness; it sounds bare, thin. There are lots of alternations between the parts, and the texture, like Gabrieli, changes often between the homophonic unity and the separated out polyphonic styles.  Clearly at this point in musical history, there was some awareness of trying to create variety and contrast:

Published on 9 Aug 2013
“Fable in musique” (“favola in musica” “) in 1 prologue and 5 acts by Claudio Monteverdi, created on 24 February 1607 at the Theatre of the Court at Mantua libretto in Italian: Alessandro Striggio, according to Greek legend. Musical Direction: Nikolaus Harnoncourt Orchestra and backing vocals: Das Monteverdi-together des Opernhauses Zurich Ballet des Opernhauses Zurich Mise en scène et realization (1978)” : Jean-Pierre Ponnelle

Handel’s ‘Orchestral Works Part 1/3 – Suite 1: Water Music’ (1717)

Another very stately piece, the basso continuo is still very evident with the harpsichord.  The texture sounds clean; I’m not sure what drew me to this conclusion.  The woodwind are again more prominent throughout and either double the string part or alternate between them.  The texture overall switches between homophonic and polyphonic, and the strings once more sound richer. There is definitely a discernible difference between this piece and the Gabrieli piece above, and I think the changes in the strings section contribute significantly towards the textural richness; it feels warmer:

Published on 16 Feb 2013
GEORG FRIEDRICH HÄNDEL (1685-1759)
Orchestral Works (2 LP Set – 1974)

J.S.Bach’s ‘Orchestral Suite No.3 in D Major’ (from 1730)

I felt that this piece had a greater, slightly denser texture. I could detect more instruments; strings which were divided into 4 distinct parts, harpsichord, trombones, oboes to name but a few.  The strings sounded richer, stronger, and it gave the piece a very stately, courtly feel. The melody was also assigned to the strings more, with the harpsichord and tombones adding the harmony.  The oboe doubled the melody at times, too, adding another dimension; it highlighted the melody somehow; brought it forward in the arrangement more.
The added woodwind and broader strings makes the difference here; the texture and sound generally sounds warmer:

Uploaded on 20 Oct 2011
J. S. Bach’s Orchestral Suite (Overture) No.3. in D Major (BWV 1068) performed by Reinhard Göbel (conductor) and the Budapest Festival Orchestra in October, 2011, in the Italian Cultural Institute, Budapest

Mozart’s ‘Rondo alla Turca – Turkish March’ (1783)

This is the 3rd movement from Mozart’s Piano Sonata in A major. The strings are much fuller in this composition and lead for the majority of the melody line.  The woodwind support the harmony and also provide much of the rhythmic interest, too.
There is a lot of percussion; triangles, cymbals; this created so much more vibrancy than I expected and really brought the piece alive.  I could also hear clarinets for the first time! It also sounds like there are some very high flutes; piccolos perhaps? These create such a light delicate effect, which contrast to the rich, dense strings.  There is lots more independence to the lines for each section of instruments and the contrast in dynamics is apparent throughout.  Lots of light and shade.  Contrast is the key word now; everything is light and shade, loud and soft, rich and thin.  The scope for more effects and colour is evident. It’s dramatic and it’s powerful:

Uploaded on 1 May 2009
Website: http://www.60s70s80smusic.com
Mozart Rondo Alla Turca Orchestra, Turkish March, Classical Music
Fantastic symphony of Wolfang Amadeus Mozart

Mozart’s ‘Masonic Funeral Music in C Minor’ (1785)
Whilst there is no escaping the fact that this a sombre piece, it retains a stately feel and style that is very refined and elegant.
The woodwind open with homophonic chords and we hear bassoons in extremely low register, which I haven’t heard before during this research.  The tone of these low bassoons is quite unnerving and brings a completely different colour to the orchestration; it doesn’t spoil it, but it certainly stands out – a spikey, edgy sound that jars slightly.
Mozart writes a very homophonic texture in this piece, and once more we hear an incredibly rich string section contrast with the use of woodwind.  Reed instruments in particular stand out; oboes, cor anglais, their thin wiry sounds pierce through the thickness of the strings.
The church organ is used here, too, probably marking the occasion, and it is undoubtedly a sacred piece befitting the inclusion of an organ.  But this time, the organ is used to add weight, depth and richness to the overall texture, not simply to provide chords for a continuo part. It was nice to hear to being used in this way:

Uploaded on 11 Sep 2010
Masonic Funeral Music for Orchestra in C minor, K. 479a477.
“Maurerische Trauermusik in C minor, ‘Masonic Funeral Music’ K477/K479a” by Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields/Sir Neville Marriner

Haydn’s ‘Symphony No.92 in G Major ‘Oxford” (1789)

This is written for flute, oboe, bassoon, horn, trumpet, timpani and strings. The immediate thing one notices about this piece is how beautifully elegant and refined it is, especially in the strings.  This section is incredibly rich now, with many parts playing.  Haydn brings the woodwind in and these make a dramatic and effective addition to the strings.  When coupled with the strings, it seems woodwind really shine and enhance their colour.  They also help to make the strings sound more supported too.  They take the melody from them occasionally but also provide harmonic support, too.  When the horns come in they provide an additional tone that’s soft yet distinct; beautiful for suspensions and passing notes. This is the first piece that the horn plays and it makes such a difference to the overall colour.  It’s so warm and soft, yet at the same time distinct; you know it’s there.  I think I prefer it now to the oboe or the flute, which were amongst my favourite orchestral instruments.  Horns with strings – amazing! I will endeavour to write some horn sections into my composition:

Published on 7 June 2014
The symphony is set in 4 movements:
1. Adagio – Allegro spiritoso (0:00)
2. Adagio (7:27)
3. Menuetto: Allegretto (13:36)
4. Finale: Presto (18:44)
Performers: The Orchestra of the 18th Century, conducted by Frans Brüggen.

Beethoven’s ‘5th Symphony’ (1804)
Another symphony and another large group of instruments.  As such this is a larger sound.  There are much more strings and the sections sound bigger.  The brass and horns are extremely prominent, as are the timpani.  Woodwind echo the melody line of the strings.  The sectioning of instruments helps to make the texture richer.  The melody ripples across the instruments making the sound shimmer and the brass are extremely sonorous throughout. A very rich sound that is exciting and thrilling to listen to:

Published on 14 Apr 2012
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Music “Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 67 – I. Allegro con brio” by Beethoven Orchestra London

Debussy’s ‘Prelude de l’apres-midi d’un Faune’ (1894)

A well known and strikingly beautiful piece, Debussy’s work, inspired by the poem by Stephane Mallarme, really did prove that ‘less was more’.  The Impressionist movement set out to convey a mood, a feeling, rather than depict something literally, and it’s this vague suggestion that makes this piece so wonderful. When I listened to it having encountered all these other works before it, you can imagine what a difference it was. It was gentle. It was calm.  The texture shimmered. Effortless restraint sprang to mind as the piece continued past the opening flute solo, the tender strings.  Tender strings?! Pretty unheard of until now.
Everything sounds dreamy.  Instead of using instrumentation at its maximum capacity, ensuring that everything is playing at once, Debussy demonstrates that the skill sometimes lies in knowing what not to include:

Uploaded on 18 Nov 2011
Leonard Bernstein conducts Claude Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun – extract from “The Unanswered Question”, Boston Symphony Orchestra

Ravel’s ‘Bolero’ (1929)
Arguably one of Ravel’s most famous pieces, it opens with a very small group of instruments playing, the flute taking the melody line and the tambour stating the rhythmic motif that will continue to run through the entire piece. This very open texture continues as Ravel moves the melody through different solo woodwind instruments. A stand-out early on for me was the very high bassoon solo; it sounded just like a saxophone and had I not been following the score, I would have assumed this was what the instrument was. I also thought the high flute and trumpet playing in unison was very effective, too.
I felt that this is a very brooding piece for orchestra that builds up slowly over the course of it’s 15 minutes.  It’s incredible that Ravel can keep the listener’s attention; the melody and the harmonic structure doesn’t change at all, except from a dramatic modulation from C major to E major right towards the end. The only variation we get is the addition of more and more instrumentation; he layers the parts up and gets each part to play more and more notes. By the end of the piece there are around 30 parts playing together.
The melody sounds more exotic than the tonality suggests because it is involves a lot of chromatic movement.
The texture remains homophonic throughout; all parts play together which gives a very rich effect.
Ravel uses a small but effective set of percussion instruments: timbale, tambour, cymbals, tam-tam and timpani.

This is the score that I followed:
IMSLP01578-Ravel_-_Bolero__Full_Score_Durand_1929_
Durand, 1929

Haydn’s ‘Symphony No.2 in C major’ (1757-1761)
This 3 movement symphony lasting only 9 minutes in duration is scored for 2 oboe, bassoon, 2 horns and strings, a modest grouping that allows the listener to really hear each of the parts.
The first movement is the Allegro, which opens with an octave leap and then a scale in the titular key of C major. This has full instrumentation and sees the oboes playing in unison with the strings. The horns play longer, more accompanying style longer notes.
There is much articulation throughout with accents and trills throughout all parts, with slight exception to the strings, who occasionally get staccato sections and the occasional legato phrase. The melodic motif moves between parts as the movement becomes more polyphonic. It has a bright, lively character and the parts are often imitative. Parts are often doubled (violin 1 and double bass, violin 2 and viola) and the melody rises and falls, often very repetitively, whilst moving through a wide range of dynamics. The oboes divide properly at bar 94 and return to unison at bar 134. The time signature is 4/4.

The second movement is an Andante movement in duple 2/4 time. Scored solely for the strings, this movement feels more intimate.
The violins play in unison with the viola, cello and double basses playing together, forming two distinct ‘parts’.  The melodic line comprises more notes, with scalic runs notated in semiquavers here; the andante tempo, however, brings the overall pace of the melody in line with the opening movement. This movement is more decorative, with trills placed within each part at the start of assumed phrases. Haydn places us in the dominant of G major and harmonically, he moves around consistently but never modulates away from G. The melody line is highly fluid and scalic, moving up and down.

The third ‘finale; presto’ movement is a dance-like section in rondo form. The entire instrumentation returns with the melody played in unison between the oboes and violins, whilst the viola, cello and double basses play together the accompaniment line. There is much contrary motion between these two groups and again, as seen in the first movement, the horns play an autonomous accompanying part with the occasional chords, long sustained notes, and rare but clearly heard unison sections (bar 35 they play tutti with the string parts). Haydn returns us to C major for this last movement but at bar 57 he modulates to G minor. However, that said, he moves harmonically through various keys, including E-flat major and F major and at times, I wondered if he instead placed this section of his finale in C minor. It feels a little ambiguous and from looking at the score, it is easier to conclude that he was moving the harmony consistently at this point.
When he doubles the oboe with the strings, I couldn’t hear them penetrate through. Had I not had the score to follow, I doubt I would have heard them. The horns were able to be detected at times but not always; the predominant sound was the strings.

The score that I followed was:
http://petrucci.mus.auth.gr/imglnks/usimg/c/c8/IMSLP31269-PMLP71226-Haydn-_Sinfonia_Nr2__HCR_Landon_.pdf

The music that I listened to was:
Fischer, Adam. Haydn Symphony No.2 In C Major. The Esterhazy Recordings, 2016. Spotify.

Ravel’s ‘Daphnis et Chloe Suite No.2’
Despite downloading the score to this ballet, which is set in one act and 3 scenes, I decided to purely listen to the recording and note down my observations. The score looked incredibly busy and I felt it could distract me; I wanted to really ‘hear’ what I hoped would be an impressionistic adventure. I wasn’t disappointed!

The first movement ‘Lever du jour’ opens with a fluttering of flutes above a pensive bass line which moves steadily and chromatically. The woodwind remains light and floaty over the strings  who move slightly discordantly. Ravel maintains the shimmering effect of the flutes which contrast with the sombre texture in the strings. Homophonic in texture, there is some interjection and alternation between flutes and violins to punctuate the lower strings’ melodic  movements.

This first scene is soaring and exciting; it feels like the opening to a 1950s hollywood movie; optimism, hope brims with every bar. Glissando harps flourish amongst the strings’ tranquil, stepwise melody lines, whilst the woodwind and upper strings play rhythmically floating decorative motives high above. At various points we hear a very high piccolo soaring across the top of the lower string and woodwinds. All very triumphant sounding until around 3’28 when suddenly Ravel changes tack and introduces a minor chordal moment with chromatic-moving brass; tension. Very effective and highly tangible tension is created. Strings move quickly, often in very high registers, all adding to the drama. Yet at the same time, a huge warmth is felt from the lower accompaniment; the horns, the strings, the timpani rolls.

A hugely dramatic climate is reached at 4’45 where Ravel gives us a full tutti orchestra with lots of percussive interest (I heard bells, triangles, tambourines?!). The harmony throughout the movement move step-wisel it virtually plods. The scene builds gently throughout, and towards the last point, the oboe enters very piercingly; it surprised me as it changed the feeling completely to that of further tension and a feeling of unknown.  This takes us directly into the second scene:

2) Pantomime
The oboe leads seamlessly into movement 2 entitled ‘Pantomime’. It sounds like one of the string lines is playing a harmonic as it’s piercingly high, whilst the oboe moves in harmony with either the bassoon or horns. The harp interjects with a pizzicato note that feels pensive and solitary.

At 0’18 the strings come in with some slightly atonal chords, which harmonically adds a different layer of interest. From 1’05 Ravel abruptly ends the occasional phrase before a very high piccolo pierces through. This movement is all about extremes and contrasts; discordant strings beneath the very high flutes. Chromatic horns are occasionally heard playing long sustained notes; even the piano is heard playing high notes at this point. At 3’18 the piece contains more percussion which adds drama and excitement.

The virtuoso flute remains high but occasionally drops down to its lowest registers making it sound moody. 4 minutes into the movement, the strings really shine and have a superbly ‘grand’ moment. Horns provide the harmonies and the harps zoom around with large glissandos.

The violin at 4’30 gets a brief but noticeable solo with the horns accompanying. At 5’08 we get silence followed by slightly discordant tutti orchestrated chords that alternate with sustained notes, which create dissonance that resolves. And then clashes. And then resolves again. A nice touch of tension.

At 5’35 the atmosphere changes completely and suddenly the movement becomes jovial. Woodwind dances around with the percussion to create a sense of drama before a calmer string and horn passage. The woodwind and percussion interject once more before the strings join in to change the direction to a more unrelenting, rhythmic gallop. This gathers a pace to the end of the movement with a dramatic spiral descent in all instruments portamento style, and the horns take us straight into the third movement.

3) Danse générale
From the get-go this sounds discordant. Pizzicato basses, violins and woodwind all interject and alternate with motifs that are spiralling and short.

The basses give tension but also rhythm along with the strings playing their quick but quiet notes; they feel like an undercurrent. It’s as though every instrument in the pit has something to say and they’re all fighting to say it. Polyphony at it’s best and quite hectic.

The percussion joins in at 0’25 and Ravel keeps building the texture with constant swift interjection of parts. It soon feels very stormy with timpani and other percussion playing with the trumpets, horns and strings. The melodic thread gets thrown around the orchestra here and at 1’43 we hear a driving rhythm played on a drum. Chromatic rolling motifs in the clarinets with an accompanying rumbling texture in the strings maintains the sense of drama.

Rhythmically driving, unrelenting, Ravel builds this last scene. The harmonies keep moving through different keys, the dynamics are variable. A very dramatic movement, which by the end offers us similar music to his ‘Bolero’ from 2’41. Contrary motion between the strings adds to the tension and eventually we get a massive finish, a hectic pile of cross-rhythms, polyphonic lines, sudden changes of dynamic. Truly exhausting to listen to!

The music that I listened to was:
Ravel: Daphnis et Chloe Suite No.2, Valses nobles et sentimentales, Bolero/Debussy: Nocturnes for Orchestra, Petite Suite. Mercury Living Presence, 2016. Spotify.

Lutoslawski’s ‘Symphony No.4’
I was encouraged to listen to this piece to engage myself in dissonant, atonal music, which I struggle with enormously.

I was able to source a copy of the score, which I hoped would enlighten me and make the task easier. In all honesty, the only aspect of the score that I found helpful was the instrumentation page detailing the parts! I have never in my life come across such a confusing piece of music. It was certainly an experience to listen to an incredibly bizarre piece whilst trying to follow a score that seemed so fractured and which didn’t make any sense.

I could only cope with listening to roughly half the symphony and was able to detect that Lutoslawski demonstrates a tonally ambiguous piece.

It is written for flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns in F, trumpets, trombones, tuba, timpani, celesta, piano, 2 harps, strings, and percussion (xylophone, glockenspiel, tubular bells, tenor drum, suspended cymbals, bass drum, bongos, marimba, vibraphone, side drum, tambourine, tam tam and tom-toms).

The opening I felt harmonically was rooted in Em but thereafter the harmonic progression was very difficult to ascertain. The initial melody is taken by the clarinet and then overtaken by the flute. Slow, staggered entries make for a very pensive, ominous feel and the string bed that occupies the opening accompaniment is rich and dark.

The texture builds. Occasionally, one feels that Lutoslawski hints at moving to a major tonality but you quickly doubt this with an incredibly dissonant melody line. The opening strings are written ‘con sord’ (with mutes), adding to the dark and oppressive feel.

The written score is very spatial and not conventional in any sense; parts that are yet to come in are not written until the point that they should play and their staves float in various spaces on the page.

He introduces percussion at figure 12, which adds a dramatic element to the texture. With glissandos in many parts, this also changes the texture; at figure 29 the cellos sounded like they were sighing. And with lots of very close dissonant parts, some only a semitone apart, Lutoslawski seems to relish in the harmonic clashes everywhere.

The score that I followed was:
Lutoslawski, W (1995). Symphony No.4. London: Chester Music. Whole score

The music that I listened to was:
Lutoslawski, Witold. 1996. Symphony No.4. Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra (Katowice). 1996. Spotify.

Shostakovich’s ‘Symphony No.1 – Mvmt III, Lento’
Despite this movement being atonal and dissonant, it is also achingly beautiful. It carries itself like a soundtrack to a classic black and white movie where the heroine is left standing alone on a wind-swept cliff whilst her love sails off into the sunset without her; it is rammed full of tragic heartache.

It opens with a solo oboe taking a very slow chromatic melody against a backdrop of soft tremolo strings. I want to say the tonality is D-flat minor, but I am not confident in this because the harmonic structure moves around a lot, albeit slowly and incrementally.

There are lots of tiny moments, fragments of absolute diatonic harmony, which last a matter of a single beat, but they stand out in amongst the otherwise clashing harmonies.

Being lento, the movement is slow, and it feels like it really does languish in its atonality and its ambiguity. The texture changes at figure 2 with the introduction of the percussion, and another change occurs at no. 4 of figure 2 when the french horns pierce through.

There is no doubt that the overall mood of this movement is solemn, harrowing. At no.6 of figure 2, Shostakovich adds interest with changes to the rhythm, which up to this point has been quite slow and steady, albeit with the occasional semi-quaver/quaver motif; here, we get triplets, which feel quite daring. He also includes a short rhythmic motif that passes from the trombone, to the tuba, a solo tuba and then the cellos and double basses, getting lower as it passes, with the rest of the orchestration dying off.

Towards the end of the movement, we get more and more indication of diatonic ambitions and we end on an achingly beautiful soft chord.

The score that I followed was:
Shostakovich, D (1997). Symphony No.1. New York: MCA Music. Pgs 56-70

The music that I listened to was:
Shostakovich, Dmitri. 1972. Symphony No.1. Mvmt III: Lento. The Moscow State Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra. 1972. Spotify

Arstioir’s ‘Heyr himna smiour’
I stumbled upon this via a Facebook share and was captivated by it. So utterly beautiful and exquisitely sung, despite the commotion of the train station. What really struck me was the various parts, the depth of the basses mixing seamlessly with the higher pitches. Such a beautiful homophonic texture moving slowly and steadily through rich, diatonic harmonies:

Karlheinz Stockhausen’s ‘Spiral I, for Electronium and Short Wave Radio’
The title to this piece really intrigued me but I did acknowledge a sense of trepidation before listening to it; I sensed it wasn’t going to be something I would normally listen to and was annoyed that I was pre-judging it because I mustn’t. However, I wasn’t wrong!

It starts with a radio being tuned, the bending pitch of the airwaves moving, searching for a station, it’s reverberation rhythmic. The electronium then starts with seemingly random placed notes with no obvious melody. Had this instrument remained unnamed in the title, I wouldn’t have known what this was (I have since learnt that it is a cross between an early electronic synthesiser with an algorithmic composition / generative music machine created by Raymond Scott).

As the piece progresses, it is apparent that there are only two layers to the texture between the electronium and the radio. The radio adds a higher pitched, ‘wobbly’ sound that comes and goes quickly, almost like an abrupt interruption that tramples over the electronium.

We hear the first fade at around 2.03 and momentarily, my ears rested on virtual silence before being shocked back to Stockhausen’s electronium again, the radio waves blasting through again at 2.10.

What I found difficult to engage with was the lack of clarity, lack of harmony, lack of melody line. It’s simply a mesh of sound that doesn’t feel at ease with itself; I couldn’t detect any point in the piece where both ‘instruments’ were happy together, either melodically, harmonically or rhythmically. I suppose texturally, it was interesting, particularly around 3.00 where the electronium ascends and becomes almost bell-like with a shimmering, metallic quality.

At 4.02, Stockhausen hints at the radio tuning into a broadcast, because we hear the voice of a male broadcaster, although not distinctly and not enough to discern the words being said. I got the feeling it was a rally speech and fleetingly thought it may have been Hitler’s voice, but it was such a brief moment that my thoughts moved on.

The electronium at certain points does hint at trying to move through a melody line, but it’s always so distorted that it’s very hard to distinguish before the radio comes in over the top, and in all honesty, I did after a while find the constant resonating tone very uncomfortable to listen to.

How did it make me feel? Confused, uneasy, trapped, tortured, I wanted it to stop. I was left wondering what Stockhausen’s intentions were. A sound painting is probably the best description; it’s highly experimental and brave. But I wonder if I will ever feel comfortable without a melody, suitably accompanied by beautiful harmonies? I’m yet to be convinced.

The music that I listened to was:
Stockhausen, Karlheinz. 2009. Spiral I & II. Pole. Wach. Japan. Zyklus. Tierkreis. In freundschaft. 2009. Spotify

Alfred Schnittke’s ‘Choir Concerto: 1. O pavelitel Sushcheva fsevo’ (O Master of all living)
This was beautiful. I enjoy choral music very much and this was utterly bewitching. It had the most subtle movement of harmonies I have heard in a long time; very quick transitions from major to minor within beats, not bars, and a stunning, tight a cappella choir singing in a huge building with awesome reverb like a cathedral; what’s not to like?

There were moments of atonality that were uncomfortable to listen to, huge discordant, diminished harmonies crashing through.

Texturally, there was a nice mix of polyphonic and homophonic sections, and Schnittke explores the vocal ranges contrasting extreme low registers with very high pitches.

There’s a point at 11.16 which he builds to and it is hauntingly beautiful, a high accented passing note / suspension piercing through.

I was never certain of where the melody line was moving and in which voice; it was highly unpredictable but this kept the music interesting.

How did it make me feel? Intrigued, haunted, worried. Lots of feelings actually, which surprised me. Elated, happy, pensive, sad. I wasn’t as intimidated as I thought I would be and I did enjoy this, despite the atonal parts.

The music that I listened to was:
Schnittke, Alfred. 2015. Choir Concerto & 2 Small Organ Pieces’ USSR Ministry of Culture Chamber Choir. 2015. Spotify

Iannis Xenakis’s ‘Shaar’
This was very strange. A full on assault on my ears the second it started.

Loud, glissando, unison strings moving up and down scalic passages. It was fierce, unapologetic, slightly out of sync so not totally tutti, and completely compelling; you couldn’t think about anything other than this. I even caught myself holding my breath at one point, such was my immediate response; I was shocked!

At 0.40 percussion enters, changing the feel to anger, aggression, frustration, confusion. Quickly, the strings return; huge juxtaposition is created and the addition of the drums momentarily felt like pure rage.

There were very high harmonics created in the strings played in quick, jabby rhythmic movements. A gap at 1.00 occurs before a huge rush of discordancy enhanced with fortissimo chords played on the piano.

Tremelos in the strings creates further tension, feelings of terror, danger, huge unease. It could be likened to the musical description, depiction, of a pencil scrawling over a drawing, letter, photograph, any picture that was once desired and is now truly hated.

The piece is hugely discordant and atonal. The harmonic structure and tonal centre is ambiguous and very chaotic. I couldn’t discern a key.

Sudden decrescendos at 2.55 change the feel; I longed for some calm! But alas, the deeper double basses then join in, further developing the anger and pain. Up and down the chromatic scales they scream, both in similar and contrary motion, syncopated rhythms jostling you around. I got a real sense of falling as the scales then fell downwards.

How did it make me feel? I struggled furiously with this piece. It was harsh, angry, violent. It was like a thousand wasps trapped in a jar. Yet, also, I could appreciate the passion that Xenakis achieved. It was bursting at the seams with emotion, for sure, and that should be commended. But I wouldn’t listen to it again.

The music that I listened to was:
Xenakis, Iannis. Orchestral Works Vol II. Jonchaies – Chaar – Lichens – Antikhthon. Orchestre Philhamonique de Luxembourg. Arturo Tamayo. Spotify

Magnus Lindberg’s ‘Fresco’
Two solo saxophones open this piece with strings accompanying. The tone is beautiful and the melodies alternate between the two saxophones become chromatic.

The tonal centre is uncertain, possibly minor, and the strings soon become discordant, conveying tension. The strings’ dynamics move in front and behind the saxophones, pushing in and out of the texture.

The tempo picks up in the solo instruments and it skips along in a dance-like manner. A harp enters and there is lots of descending chromatic movement. At 1.07 we get a sense of the orchestra playing fully, a polyphonic ‘chase’ ensues through each section.

At 1.21 the percussion sounds, cymbals and triangles. Lots of fluttering in the brass creates a shimmering texture. I adored the chimes and bells at 1.38; it created a magical atmosphere.

At 1.43 a marimba or similar instrument is introduced which changes the texture, adding a metallic, wooden, shrill and harsh sound.

Lots of ranges are explored and we get a large build up of notes forming a collective chord. A glissando in the brass leads to low strings which sound menacing.

The brass then take over a melodic exchange, polyphonic in nature, which throws a melodic motif around like a ball, tremolo strings beneath adding tension.

There is lots of action throughout. The piece doesn’t stand still and is always busy.  Led by the percussion section half way through which leads to sounds darting throughout the orchestra once more.

The piece is loud or very loud throughout and doesn’t pause for breath.  Fresco is a painting done quickly in watercolour on wet plaster onto walls or ceilings; I wonder if the piece tries to capture the energy of this technique?

How did it make me feel? Intrigued for sure but also disorientated and confused, and at times exhausted.

I listened to:
Lindberg, Magnus. Cantigas Cello Concerto, Parada, Fresco. Philhamonic Esa-Pekka Salonen. Anssi Karttunen cello. Spotify

Galina Ustvolskaya’s ‘Piano Sonata No.6’
This opens with a solo piano at very low register thumping notes. These notes are very close together, chords, like a child experimenting for the first time, naively pressing 3 or 4 fingers down randomly up and down the keyboard.

There is no tonal centre. The rhythm hastens after the opening bars, and the chord patterns chase each other, one going up, one going down. It’s loud. It explores a wide range of the keyboard, and moves around the registers broadly; very high, mid, then very low.

At 0.28 we hear single notes picked out randomly, forming a series of notes, akin to a 12 tone scale as it’s not chromatic.

The thumping, squashed chords return, very low, very steady thumps playing on every beat; the structure is that of a squashed sound. Then, both the upper and very low chords sound together; very extreme, and suggests great unease and unrest.

The piece only juxtaposes itself with the 1st theme, namely the thumping chords, and the single randomly placed notes. There is no discernible sonata ‘form’ although it is possibly happening but just very hard to hear.

The piece concludes in this vein to the end at 7.13.

How it made me feel? Awful. I hated it. I felt it was highly abusive to the piano, and totally unmusical. There was no melody and definitely no harmony, with a monotonous rhythm. Horrible!

I listened to:
Ustvolskaya, Galina. Piano Sonatas, 1998. Markus Hinterhauser. Col legno Produktions – und VertriebsgmbH. Spotify

La Monte Young’s ‘No.2 Build a Fire’
This track uses the guitar more for effect than as a melodious instrument. Young attempts to create the sound of a fire crackling into life (or certainly, this is what I have taken from the track!).

The piece opens with rustling sounds, wood sticks clicking, the strings of a guitar being rubbed. The occasional string is plucked but not in any structured, melodic way, and they are rubbed in what sounds like a similar way to violin bows being prepared with resin; scratchy!

Perhaps Young uses a specific type of cloth or fabric on the strings to create the sound. I just couldn’t discern it, no matter how many times I listened to the track.

There is no rhythm to the piece, no harmony, no melody; no typical components of ‘music’ and I determined that this was more of a soundscape. Which lasts 0.39!

It’s certainly very unique and really interesting.

How it made me feel? Bemused, intrigued. Let down initially that this was called ‘music’, but after a few listens I settled into it and appreciated it from a different perspective. I feel that I am now appreciating contemporary composers’ works; as long as I understand that the normal conventions of music notation and form rarely apply, it is easier to engage with them. They’re not as intimidating to me now.

I listened to:
Young, La Monte. La Monte Young Compositions 1960. Noel Akchote. Spotify

Gerard Grisey’s ‘Partiels’
Admittedly, I didn’t listen to the entire track, but certainly dipped my toe and learnt enough to realise that I wasn’t going to listen to any more Grisey tracks.

This piece starts with very low double basses stabbing at single notes. It is aggressive, threatening. A discordant chord fades in and out over the top with strings, whilst the low strings keep opening each new phrase with the same stabbing attacks followed by the chord, which reminded me of the harmonics achieved from playing a string instrument. In time, more discordant notes build over the top.

At 1.25, brass enter to help build the texture and the chords. It’s highly discordant and threatening. We soon hear cross rhythms against the structured, ominous regularity of the double basses, before tremolo, slightly glissando violins play over the top.

The opening bass note doesn’t change pitch, nor does the chord that sounds over the top aside from additional notes that get added; are these the partiels that Grisey is trying to ‘describe’?

I reach 3.42 when chimes come in and the bass notes become more active, more alert, more ominous. Woodwind enter, the violins become more scratchy and I struggled to maintain engagement by this point. Was it the repetitiveness? I don’t know.

How it made me feel? Frustrated. I wanted to grab the low strings and chord round the neck and throttle them. I should have probably stuck it out and tried to listen to the entire track but I just couldn’t bear it any more.

I listened to:
Grisey, Gerard. Les Espaces Acoustiques. Garth Knox, Asko Ensemble WDR Sinfonieorchester Koln. Spotify

John Tavener’s ‘Song for Athene’
This is such a beautiful piece of choral music and very well known. I know it very well but never taken the time to really sit and properly listen to what Tavener does.

It opens with a very low pedal note sung by male voices; this note is sustained throughout the piece very softly in the background. Higher notes sing over the top, slow, solemn, reflective, repetitive voices.

At 0.48, the tenor voice changes tonality to minor and echoes the opening chant melodic pattern.  Higher voices then join in, soaring at 1.22; it’s very haunting. At 1.42, the tenors start their chant again but back in the major tonality. The rest of the choir join in but this time their parts move in contrary motion, the first time in the piece where the voices are at odds with one another and it creates tension with dissonant notes and some beautiful harmonic clashes.

At 2.20, we hear a reprise of the opening phrase by the tenors once more back in the major tonality, but there is more contrary motion, more clashing. This is now building and the melodic motif is lengthening and developing.

At 3.03, we hear the opening chant motif as a unison line in the major and at 3.23, we hear a change in pattern, a new motif unison in the minor again; it’s longer and more sustained.

At 4.30 Tavener reprises the original motif in the major, and within 10 seconds we hear the highest note/point reached. The high voices/sopranos are now singing and sustaining the pedal note. The music keeps climbing and we reach the climate of the entire piece. It is incredibly haunting.

We then get close to a 5 second silence before the lower voices enter once more with their long sustained note and a motif in the major tonality over the top. Everything slows right down before ending on a single held note.

How it made me feel? Very relaxed, very calm, a little teary at times. It made me want to sing choral music again. It also made me want to write choral music.

I listened to:
Tavener, John. Rememberance. Durufle ‘Requiem’, Tavener S’ong for Athene’, Elgar ‘They Are At Rest.’ Choir of Clare College, Cambridge. Graham Ross. Harmonia Mundi. Spotify

Toru Takemistu’s ‘A Flock Decends into The Pentagonal Garden’
Woodwind open with chords before a solo oboe plays a melody line. It quickly feels very dark, very ominous, and slightly discordant.

A harp enters with brass giving some sustained element to the texture. The strings then continue the discordancy with chords; it gets suddenly very loud at 1.04.

The flute plays with the harp, which settles the mood, but not for long; one gets the idea that a bird has landed somewhere. It can’t believe its luck but then quickly realises that it shouldn’t have landed and is in trouble.

Low bassoon takes the tune and adds something of a comical feel and plays with a low flute, which adds to the sense of curiosity. Takemistu brings in the scratchy, discordant chords within the string section again. There is a definite juxtaposition happening between the innocence and wonderment of the wild bird verses human authority.

Short phrases that last a bar, swelling dynamics, extreme registers…this all continues, the mood one of momentary peace disturbed by authority, by people, by corporation.

It is hard to determine what key he places the piece in. The rhythm is very steady; the flock has landed after all, so they’re quite sedentary.

The threat of their newly found landing place strikes me as reason behind the latent disquiet throughout.  Perhaps the early discordant harmonies suggest the flock ‘en mass’ moving through the skies.

How did it make me feel? Fascinated. This piece really stirred my imagination and it tapped into my research around programme music and about whether having the title given to you helps to create the imagery in your mind whilst you’re listening.
It made me curious, uneasy, and strangely protective of the birds! I wanted them to be safe.

I listened to:
Takemistu, Toru . ‘A Flock Decends into The Pentagonal Garden’. Echo 21. Spotify

James Dillon’s ‘Book of Elements, Vol.2; Vol 2; No.1’
This is a solo piano work. It is very atonal and hard to distinguish the melody line and harmonic structure.  The tonal centre is very hard to determine and it seems highly chaotic rhythmically, with cross rhythms between the right and left hand parts.

Dillon explores the entire range of the piano in this piece starting at the very top high register with a series of fast chords that descend to a lower chord in the mid-register. The left hand then leads with a series of chords that the right hand then joins in with.

The texture changes in the LH with tremolo patterns which move to the right hand. This creates a shimmering, lighter texture. He lightly picks out some single notes that descend; I thought it might develop into a melody line but no!

At 0.28 the left hand rocks with a short accompaniment to the right hand before it sounds like two separate parts again playing simultaneously; random notes and patterns; there are elements of jazz progressions and harmonies that fleetingly appear.

How it made me feel? Uncomfortable. As a pianist you can’t help but imagine playing the music of a solo piece and it felt tiring to play. I’m not sure I enjoyed it.

I listened to:
Dillon, James. ‘Book of Elements, Vols I-V. Noriko Kawai. NMC Records. Spotify

Terry Riley’s ‘G Song’
Fast semiquavers in a violin part carries the melody in a minor tonality at the start of this piece with an accompaniment from a cello.  One assumes this is going to be a quartet.

We are in 3/4 tempo. The cello plays a 4 bar descending figure, which hints momentarily at a major tonality before coming back to the minor once more.

Now the violin is accompanied by viola and the cello takes over the melody. This continues to be a string quartet, with a rich, tight texture of polyphonic lines that meld together beautifully.

Riley either pushes the frenetic semi-quavers to the front or he tempers this more by bringing a haunting melody forward.

The piece continues at a pace, there is no letting up and it feels relentless.  Many times there are cross rhythms, different melodies too.  It’s a little chaotic but it works. The tonality remains diatonic despite momentary clashes throughout; you sense Riley has control of it all.

How it made me feel? Curious, excited, exhausted by the pace.

I listened to:
Riley, Terry . ‘One Earth, One People, One Love’. Kronos plays Terry Riley. Spotify

Henri Dutilleux’s ‘Cello Concerto. No. 1: Enigme (tres libre et flexible)’
This opens with a cymbal shimmer or similar. A solo cello then enters, very chromatically, with an atonal rising motive, which includes glissandos. We hear the cymbal again.

I sense early on another very eerie, ominous atmosphere. Why do so many of these contemporary artists create such scary sounds?!

The cello plays arco for the first minute and then changes to pizzicato, with more cymbal shimmering or rain stick in the background.

There is a very loud, harsh aggressive bowing follows. You can really hear the tone of the cello and despite it being so harsh, it is very beautiful.  It’s just a shame that we don’t yet have a discernible melody; everything feels very unpredictable.

At 1.17 we hear other strings in the background accompaniment with very atonal, diminished chords played tremolo; this creates a lot of tension whilst the cello plays pizzicato again with some double-stopped chords.

We now hear angry exchanges between arco and pizzicato whilst the other strings continue their tremolo patterns beneath. It feels angry.

I felt the piece hinted at Vaughan William’s ‘Lark’s Ascending’ at 1.42.

I can’t gauge any harmonic or tonal centres in this piece. The rhythm is erratic throughout and the dynamics are predominantly loud or very loud. Dutilleux appears to be very aggressive and I didn’t want to continue listening past 5 minutes.

I couldn’t see where he was taking the piece aside from expressing a greater sense of anger as every phrase moved on.

How it made me feel? Annoyed, fed up, angry. I couldn’t understand what he was trying to achieve or convey!

I listened to:
Dutilleux, Henri . ‘Cello Concerto (Tout un monde lointain)’ 2002 Digital Remaster. Spotify

Gerald Barry’s ‘Of Queen’s Garden’
The opening is fast with all instrumentation in unison. It is loud and energetic. We then hear echoes of echoes on the piano. After a silent pause, a very quiet solo clarinet plays, following what sounds like a tone scale; it’s certainly not chromatic and very random.

Barry explores the range of the clarinet before another expectant silent pause. The clarinet plays again it’s opening melody, before being joined by a horn, who joins in the melodic pattern but an interval apart; it sounds atonal, very random notes, but there is a greater sense of melodic shape this time.

This repeats but quicker before a really loud, very high trumpet enters with its own version of the melodic motive. Again it sounds random.

The clarinet eventually responds but it sounds more subdued in comparison, playing in a lower register.  Soon, it moves into a higher register and plays with the bassoon in unison but again, playing a discordant interval.

At 2.43 we hear a xylophone and strings playing this same random set of quaver notes. It feels more disjointed finding it hard to understand what is going on. It is homophonic and feels very atonal.

At 3.18 the brass enter with a quicker motive, which is then ‘answered’ by the woodwind. Barry moves these tone scale motives between sections. Now the strings join in much louder and with more force. The brass respond with a new pattern of notes; the high flutes/piccolos join in. This continues, moving the motif around the orchestra. The motif quickens, making for a more frenetic texture, and by the end, Barry has wound everything up.

How it made me feel? Confused.  And slightly angry that the piece really didn’t develop or change in any way.

I listened to:
Barry, Gerald . ‘Orchestral Works’ National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland. Robert Houlihan. Marco Polo Irish Composer Series. Spotify

Cornelius Cardew’s ‘Treatise: Page No.19’
This is a very short piece, barely 1.5mins. It opens with lots of rattling and clanging noises. Are we back to La Monte Young?

It resembles the sound of guitar strings being struck, plucked, generally messed with. There is no melody, no tonal centre, no harmony.

The rhythm and pace is frenetic and there is no sense of this being a musical piece just a noise painting.  Occasionally, it sounds like frets are being scraped with something.

At 0.57 something else is used on the strings. A grater?!

This piece is very uncomfortable to listen to. I was glad it was only short.

How it made me feel? Uncomfortable. Unhappy. Confused.

I listened to:
Cardew, Cornelius. ‘The Great Treatise Serves’ Noel Akchoie. Spotify

Luciano Berio’s ‘Wasserklavier’ (Water Piano)
This very steady, slow, pensive yet beautiful solo piano piece is such a welcome after the last few piece that I have listened to!

The harmonies are diatonic and all ‘make sense’, it is really slow, and very stately. I found it quite reflective, with a step-wise melody that travels quite high. It uses a good range of the piano register.

There is a lovely moment in the harmony at 0.46; it’s a subtle change but it’s really beautiful. I wondered throughout whether it was in 6/8 or 2/2. There is some feeling of syncopation or duple time which gives a relaxed, laid-back feeling.

It is sometimes chromatic and it moves in a stepwise motion. Root position chords used predominantly, and at times I find it hints at Handel’s ‘Air on a G string’.

Around 1.40,  he keeps the bass steady and centred on one note but explores harmonic changes over the top, and I felt that the repeated bass note near 1.52 implies drops of water. Slow, arpeggiated chords help to reinforce this feeling, too.

Use of the higher registers also implies droplets and creates a shimmery effect that could suggest reflections.  It ends very simply with a single, solitary note.

How it made me feel? Chilled out, relaxed, at peace. A welcome relief!

I listened to:
Berio, Luciano . ‘Stillness – music of calm in a changing world’ ABC Classics. Spotify

Philip Glass’s ‘The Poet Acts (from ‘The Hours’)’
This is another solo piano piece and I just love Philip’s works. I enjoy playing them. This one is beautiful and calming.

It is set within a low register, with the melody line positioned in the middle voice (the alto line if you will). There is a relaxed triplet figure in the rhythm and we are in a minor tonality. The piece is steady, hypnotic.

The LH takes the melodic motif within the first minute. It moves via inverted chords to the major tonality only briefly before returning to the minor again, but a powerful, poignant hint at the major key once more interrupts us.

The dynamics remain at moderate levels until the middle when they become very loud.

The piece is typically Glass, i.e. very repetitive, and the melody line remains mid-low register. The dynamics drop towards the end and the tension felt throughout is finally released. The LH retains it’s octave chords and notes.

It’s a lovely piece. Not all that long but still precious. I look forward to playing it.

How it made me feel? Peaceful, relaxed, calm, curious to play it for myself.

I listened to:
Glass, Philip. ‘Glass worlds. 4 on love. The Hours, Modern Love Waltz, Notes on a Scandal, Music in Fifths’ Nicolas Horvath. Grand Piano. Spotify

Morton Feldman’s ‘Rothko Chapel 5’
This opens with a celeste playing a repeated pattern/ostinato of 4 notes, which establishes a major tonality and a steady, rhythmic pattern.

This repeats continually and a solo viola enters with a lyrical melody line. The rhythm is quite simple aside from some triplets at the end of the phrases. The celeste shimmers in the background and creates a stark contrast in tone to the viola, which sounds wiry and scratchy.

The melody is repeated higher. We hear an atonal chord of voices enter, a homophonic chord of notes, which sounds eerie and oppressive against the other instruments.

The melody enters once more, higher and thinner, the celeste continuing in the background.

I felt like the oxygen was being sucked out of my chest as I listened to this. Another wordless sound enters with female voices forming another atonal chord, jabbing the air, hinting at a pain that’s hidden; this reminded me of the sound of a steam train’s whistle.

How it made me feel? Uncertain, hypnotised momentarily, surprised by the voices, curious, afraid.

I listened to:
Feldman, Morton . ‘Rothoko Chapel, Why Patterns?’ 1991. UC Berkley Chamber Chorus. Philip Brett. New Albion Records Inc. Spotify

Hans Werner Henze’s ‘Adagio Adagio’
This is a piece for piano, violin and cello. The violin provides the melody, whilst the cello the counter-melody and the piano the accompaniment. I was hoping for a more diatonic composition given how many recent pieces have been so atonal; sadly I was in for a disappointment. This has clashing harmonies ALL over the place!

The piano part is gentle and steady, a very suitable basis for the violin and cello. At 1.17 the piano plays a solo melody which seems to reflect on the opening violin motif, which is quite atonal with lots of wide jumps between registers.

This piece feels very experimental and random. It’s extremely passionate, too, but so incredibly atonal that you can’t help feeling that all that is being played is wrong notes. And this is off-putting when you’re trying to engage with it.

The texture is clean and not crowded; each part is identifiable.

At 2.00 when the violin and cello rejoin the piece, it feels much more aggressive and volatile. As they work together, these two instruments ramp up the atonality and trying to gauge the tonal centre is almost impossible.

The piece is extremely chromatic and harmonically transient; it doesn’t sit still. Hence explores a broad range of registers within each part and it feels like we’re in 6-8 time. The rhythm remains stable and steady throughout.

At 3.17 the violin and cello falling unison and finally the piece feels more together and less at war with itself, right to the last notes when we finally hear a major tonality and a conclusion.

How it made me feel? On edge. I wanted the violin and cello to settle down and be more harmonious!

I listened to:
Henze, Hans Werner . ‘My Tribute to Yehudi Menuhin’ 2016. Daniel Hope. Deutsche Grammophon GmbH. Spotify

Steve Reich’s ‘New York Counterpoint: II Second Movement’
This opens with two clarinets in unison harmonising each other with a short major tonality motif that continues round and round. It is hard to get an understanding on the tempo but the tonality is most definitely major. The mood is optimistic and happy.

Slowly, one part lengthens a note here and there within its phrases which creates more harmony and accompaniment to the other part. It seems as though a 3rd part enters with a new layering of rhythm and melodic interest. All so closely playing together that they are almost unison but just slightly apart.

Aa quicker part enters at 1.11 playing semiquavers, pulling forward through the texture quite insistently a repeated note in a lower register; it reminded me of a duck.  Then another new part lower still joins with this quicker part, an octave below the other one.

Each part’s dynamic moves the line forward and back in the piece, as though the players are getting closer and then further away from the pics, coming and going.

It feels as though the piece gets a little faster towards the end.  It is a very repetitive and percussive piece in technique the way each line is so closely aligned and overlapping.

How it made me feel? Bored very quickly unfortunately. It didn’t progress or develop enough to keep my interest.

I listened to:
Reich, Steve . ‘New York Counterpoint. Marc Mellits ‘Black” 2016. Julian Bliss. Signum Records. Spotify

Louis Adriessen’s ‘The Eisenstein Song’
This opens with a solo flute that plays a repetitive 2 note motif that then echo down an octave.  After a couple of bars solo, we hear a brass accompaniment enter, which sets the minor tonality which a great diminished chord.

I’m unsure if it is a horn or trombone that takes the melody here, such is the richness of the texture.  There is a nice simple movement of harmonics and a slow, steady rhythm.
It has an air of mystery about it, akin to a spy film.

At 1.11 a very fleeting pause / break in the flute obstinate occurs which is very noticeable. The melody from here becomes very loud and pierces through. At 1.36 a female solo voice sings the melody with English words. There are heavily accented passing notes in this line, which makes for some very interesting clashes with the horn.  The texture is noticeably darker with this voice.

The piece ends with all instruments sustaining a discordant, diminished chord that fades away.  Rhythmically, this piece is staid and uneventful.  Harmonically, it is highly repetitive, albeit with the occasional momentary dissonant clash, which provides enough interest to make up for an otherwise boring, cyclical piece.

How it made me feel? Quite bored but initially curious. I enjoyed the tension created by the harmonic clashes.

I listened to:
Andreessen, Louis . ‘M is for Man, Music, Mozart” 1994. Jurgen Hempel. Elektra Entertainment. Spotify

Thomas Ades’s ‘The Four Quarters. I. Nightfalls’
A violin and viola / second violin open in a very high register, a polyphonic exchange of question and answer style melodic motives.  The tonality is major, we have a very simple rhythm; one plays a note on the first beat and sustains whilst the second player enters on the second beat, overlapping and continuing the texture, which is very bare and simple.

This becomes discordant and clashes after the first 15 seconds before the lower strings (cello and bass) enter a few seconds later. These provide a dissonant accompaniment much lower, which acts to ‘ground’ the higher more experimental motives above.

One can really hear the tonal differences between the instruments; the high violin scratches around and feels uncomfortable whilst the lower voices sound warm, rich, comforting. The higher sounds almost become inconsequential to the lower, more intriguing parts.

The cello comes through more strongly around 0.55.  There is now a very slow mesh of sound. The motive rhythm doesn’t change. The order of the parts coming in changes, as do their notes, but the overall feeling remains uneasy.

It is very dark; nightfall suggests lack of clarity, confusion, muddled, opaqueness.

At 2.02, the texture is changed when the cello plays pizzicato; it jolts you out of the slow darkness. At 2.09, a higher string does the same thing injecting some lightness, a fleeting moment of change that’s much needed.

From here, each line develops rhythmically and interest and engagement is maintained by Ades’s variations and subtle changes.

The piece is very atonal and dissonant. It suggests confusion, lack of clarity. There is no tonal centre, no discernible melody and the rhythm remains predominantly ‘plodding’.

It is not very exciting yet although the dynamics start to build and add more tension. At 2.31, a very high, shrill violin note sounds remarkably like a scream. Everything then drops away rapidly allowing the viola to come through the texture.

At 3.06, a momentary diatonic harmony is formed for 1 beat. Fleeting, but there. From this point onwards, the harmony settles, becomes more diatonic. The registers move lower too but not for long as a slow, upwards chromatic crawl kicks in pulling the parts higher.

Soon, there is a noticeable distance between the low and high parts. At 4.30, we are left with just the higher parts picking their way through random notes again. At 4.37 the lower parts rejoin once more continuing the piece on its polyphonic, chromatic, discordant journey to the end.

How it made me feel? Pained. I didn’t like the continual clashes. It was all too tense and angst-ridden.

I listened to:
Thomas, Ades. ‘The Twenty Fifth Hour. The Chamber Music of Thomas Ades’  The Calder Quartet. Thomas Ades piano. Spotify

***

And here concludes my listening log.  A huge undertaking for me which charts a huge variety of pieces that I have both loved and hated listening to!

I have tried to listen to pieces that I have known for many years. I have also forced myself (if I’m honest) to delve and discover more contemporary artists. Like eating vegetables, the latter has been a challenge at times but I think on reflection, my patience has grown and I have learnt to take my time with atonal music instead of writing them off immediately.

My listening work has helped me to appreciate the very rich tapestry of music that is all around us. It helps shape everything that we do as composers, and we would all be lying through our teeth if we didn’t acknowledge the subtle yet most definite influences that are all around us.

This has been a wonderful adventure listening to such a broad range of tracks and I hope that it demonstrates how far I have come as a music student.